Eddie Jones loves an analogy and, with the Calcutta Cup looming on Saturday, his recipe for Scottish beef is already in the oven. “It’s like a slow cooker, mate.
You put the meat in and put the temperature on low then it just simmers for a while. That’s where we are at the moment.” As England’s coach will shortly appreciate, however, serving up the perfect Six Nations dish is rarely that easy.
For all the talk of fresh starts, the championship spits out anyone who is even fractionally hesitant off the mark. Two years ago England lost by two points in France in their opening game and even four subsequent wins could not secure them the title.
Jones’s first match in charge, given the scant time he has spent with his squad, is more about lobbing a few hastily identified burgers under the grill and hoping they defrost in time.
Hence his desire to try to make Scotland stop and think by casting them as favourites. Mind games have long been among his trademark skills in contrast to Stuart Lancaster and Martin Johnson who preferred to respect their next opponents to death. On Monday, for example, Jones even offered to write to his opposite number, Vern Cotter, to apologise for suggesting the hosts should be favourites. “I know he was upset about that so I apologise to Vern. If you want me to write a letter, I’ll write a letter of apology. We’re happy to be favourites. We’ve had a good preparation and we’ll go in there confident about playing well.”
All good knockabout stuff and Jones is a past master. He has long believed that simply sitting in press conferences and reading out the latest groin-strain updates is a waste of everyone’s time. “Every time we talk to the media we are trying to find a way to win. I don’t see that as mind games, it’s just part of the process. I think it is an important part of the game. Warren Gatland does it exceedingly well, doesn’t he? Clive Woodward wasn’t too bad at it and he’s knighted. So he was knighted for doing mind games!”
It was Woodward who criticised the poor feng shui in the away dressing room at Murrayfield after England’s win there in 2004, suggesting a large pillar had been deliberately placed to “screw up” the feel of the room. As England won comfortably it cannot have been too bad but Jones, despite an unbeaten record in Edinburgh with Australia, is also wary.
“The Scottish are canny people. I remember the time the pitch was being re-marked three hours before the game. The [English] guys are telling me you get to within 10 minutes of the ground and a host of bagpipers appear and do a slow march in front of the bus. People painted with blue crosses are going to be screaming and yelling. That’s what Test match rugby is about, isn’t it?”
His firm belief is that outcome matters rather more than how England are perceived north of the border. “Arrogance is only bad when you lose. If you are winning and you are arrogant then it is self-belief. We’re going to believe we are going to be the best team in the world. If that’s being arrogant then it is being arrogant. To me it is belief about what we can be.”
The first step is to crank up their forward power, with extra running and pre-dawn gym sessions already the norm. Some are finding it a culture shock. “It’s a bit depressing walking over to the gym in the dark at 6.30am,” said the prop Mako Vunipola, but Jones is unapologetic.
“We’ve just jumped in the pool and we’re only at the shallow end at the moment. We’ve still got the deep end to go. By Saturday night we’re going to know a lot more about the team and I think it’s going to be pretty good.”
Whether they sink or swim in Edinburgh will be fascinating. The Northampton tighthead Kieran Brookes may be available and it is hoped his club-mate Courtney Lawes will train fully on Thursday. If not, Maro Itoje could conceivably be promoted to the 23 after impressing the watching Jones during Saracens’ weekend home win against Bath.
Jones also confirmed he remains in regular contact with Sale’s Danny Cipriani – “He knows he’s in the picture but we can’t pick everyone” – and has his eyes peeled for whoever appropriated his birthday cake at the weekend. “I did get a cake. I think someone took it, though … maybe one of the props.” Vunipola hinted there may well have been sticky fingers in camp. “I don’t want to put anyone in it but I just want to clear my name,” said the loosehead. “I wasn’t there.”
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